37 pages 1 hour read

Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz, published by Macmillan Publishers under the Celadon Books imprint in 2021, falls into the genres of thriller, crime, and mystery. Lauded by Stephen King, the novel was a New York Times Bestseller and appeared on lists such as Oprah Magazine’s 55 Most Anticipated Books of 2021 and The Washington Post’s 20 Books to Read This Summer.

Plot Summary

Jake Bonner teaches at Ripley College in Vermont. Jake attended a reputable MFA program, saw some success with his first novel, and less success with subsequent publications. An obnoxious student, Evan Parker, annoys Jake and another professor at a cookout and Jake’s workshop. Evan’s rudeness extends to other students.

Evan tells Jake an idea he has for a story based on the life of Evan’s sister Dianna; Jake categorizes it as compelling and original. After the term, Dianna kills her brother (making it look like a drug overdose) after finding his novel draft.

Ripley fires its faculty, and then rehires them for completely online, lower-paying positions. Jake seeks out additional online editing work. Two years later, he is making ends meet working at an upstate New York writer’s colony and living in a converted hotel. Jake feels disgraced because he has to organize lunches for successful writers. At this low point, he learns of Evan’s death, and decides to use Evan’s unpublished plot.

Three years later, Jake’s new novel Crib (based on Evan’s idea) is a wild success, with a huge book tour and movie deal. Jake meets the programming manager for a radio station in Seattle. Unbeknownst to Jake, the manager is actually Dianna, now going by the name Anna Williams, who arranged their meeting because she wants revenge for Jake stealing her life story. Jake’s attraction to her blinds him, and they go on a date before he leaves Seattle.

Jake gets a string of accusatory emails from someone called Talented Tom—actually Anna under a pseudonym. Jake ignores the messages and struggles to write his next book. Meanwhile, Anna moves in with Jake in New York City. Talented Tom goes public, and a Facebook post by Tom goes viral. Jake’s publisher brushes it off, saying all successful authors face online harassment. Talented Tom ignores a lawyer’s warning, continuing the barrage of online accusations of plagiarism.

Jake investigates Evan, initially assuming Talented Tom is another writer. Jake at first ignores the fact that Evan’s sister killed both her parents and brother. Anna is worried about Jake discovering her identity. Jake proposes, Anna accepts, and they are married at City Hall. She cooks for him all the time, foreshadowing how she will kill him: with drugged soup.

Jake visits Evan’s hometown in Vermont. There, he learns that Evan’s supposedly dead sister was universally disliked and that her daughter, Evan’s niece Rose Parker, left town. Jake tracks down the niece in Georgia. In Georgia, Jake learns that Rose supposedly lost her mother in a campground fire. Jake visits the campground, where Rose and Dianna posed as sisters. Jake realizes where Evan’s plot came from: A mother killing her daughter and taking her place.

When Jake returns to New York, Anna cooks him drugged soup. As he dies, Anna fills in all the missing details about how she killed her parents, Evan, and Rose. She then informs Jake that his death will look like a suicide provoked by the harassment of Talented Tom. Anna writes a suicide note for Jake, and skips town.

The epilogue is an interview with Anna. She claims to be distraught over Jake’s suicide and that he inspired her to become a writer herself.

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By Jean Hanff Korelitz

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Jean Hanff Korelitz
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